Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Man's Search for Meaning - Viktor Frankl

Yet another important book immediately spawned from WWII, my parent's generation, is Viktor Frankl's book about his experiences in Auschwitz and other concentration camps. Doctor Frankl was a psychologist and survived the camps, largely through luck or Grace, certainly Grace for us who have the good fortune of his writing.

The details are not as grotesquely written as we are used to seeing these days, but they are alluded to in such matter-of-fact tone that the effect is chilling.

His message, which you can really only get from reading (I'm about halfway through) is this: Even in a concentration camp, with torture and death constantly at hand, even then, one can choose one's attitude. It's not easy, but it is possible. Frankl saw this with his own eyes as some of the prisoners chose the path of helping their fellow prisoners, even at risk to their own lives.

This is the hero's attitude turned inside out, and so foreign to us that we immediately think loser of anyone who takes it on. Sacrifice? You've got to be kidding me! Yet Frankl comes to the conclusion that it is this that kept some of the prisoners from the brink of giving in to suicide or worse, the slow death that comes from giving up. He observed that it was a difficult task, sometimes going against instinct, in the face of hunger, fear, sickness, and horror. In his own case, he decided to stay with a group of sick prisoners to help them when he could have escaped. It ended up saving his life. Luck? Yes, a random event if you will. Even so, he expounds on the claim that to do otherwise, to leave these men, would have been, for him, wrong. And that would have weakened his spirit, making feel even less human than his circumstances made him feel.

We all have this choice before us, every day. Do we follow instinct and inhumanely climb the ladder of self preservation, or do we stop along the way to give others a hand up or even a push from below them? Thoughtful reading this is, and I would recommend it to anyone from our era of having everything at hand, an era that could easily crumble into anarchy and decay.

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